Public Lands Debate


On Wednesday, May 14th, the Salt Lake Tribune hosted a well-attended public debate at the Salt Lake City Library, pitting Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Representative Ken Ivory against Attorney Pat Shea, former director of the BLM under President Bill Clinton, and Professor Dan McCool of the University of Utah Political Science Department. The debate centered on whether the state or the BLM should manage Utah’s public lands.

One of the important questions posed by the Salt Lake Tribune, as part of the debate format, was whether the debate would sway public opinion. Using high tech polling methods, including cell phone texting, members of the audience were asked to vote before and after the debate. in the beginning, 39% of the audience were in favor of state control of the land; after the discussion, 46% were in favor.

Lockhart and Ivory argued that federal lands should be turned over to the State of Utah, and contended the state is in a better position to manage the land and resources. Shea and McCool disagreed, claiming the Federal government should maintain jurisdiction. Sentiments on this issue appear to be much stronger in rural Utah, rather than SLC, where the debate occurred.


The Debate After the Debate
The standing-room only debate was very well attended, with both rural ranchers, cowboys and productive public land-users in attendence, as well as urban environmentalists.

As might be expected, there were also some lively informal debates among members of the audience, following the formal debate. It seems to be the case that residents of rural counties, where there is much higher percentage of public land, are more in favor of state management as compared to urban counties like Salt Lake County, where federal land is more scarce.

To see more about the debate, including the video, go to

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